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Cutler still somewhat in Elway's shadow

Bears QB, as Luck will find similarly, can't escape it completely until he wins Super Bowl

Mike Mulligan

10:57 PM CDT, September 5, 2012

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It somehow is appropriate Andrew Luck begins his career on a field opposite Jay Cutler.

The Bears quarterback can offer his Colts counterpart a bit of advice about following a legend when the teams hook up Sunday at Soldier Field. Hopefully, it will be wisdom beyond a whispered: "Get your bleepity bleep out of Dodge,'' as Cutler did with the Broncos in Denver where he battled the shadow of John Elway right up to the day he forced a trade to the Bears before the 2009 season.

It's a fact of NFL life that every quarterback who follows a franchise player is judged on the standard the former player set. Luck is stuck with a career of comparison to a certain 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback with a laser-like, rocket arm. Ironically, Peyton Manning is now in Denver after Elway recruited him there as a free agent. .

Cutler, of course, no longer feels the Elway burden. When Bears Chairman George McCaskey said at training camp that Cutler "is the most talented quarterback we've had here in the last 60 years since Sid Luckman,'' who was going to argue? Luckman retired about a half decade before McCaskey was born, but he's the only franchise quarterback the Bears have had other than Jim McMahon in an injury-dogged career.

Cutler is scheduled for his fourth consecutive season as the Bears leading passer, something not seen around these parts since Jim Harbaugh pulled off the feat from 1990-93. McMahon was the team's leading passer for six of seven seasons from 1982-88 and led them in pass completions in 1986. though he started fewer games than the other quarterbacks combined.

You have to go back to Luckman from 1940-48 to find the Bears record of nine seasons with the same passing leader.

Cutler is projected to promote himself into the company of legends this season after teasing at being a bona fide franchise player a year ago. General manager Phil Emery says "of course'' Cutler is a franchise quarterback, and he seems to have ensured the designation by getting some bigger receivers as targets for the gunslinger. The bigger they are the more accurate a quarterback becomes. Brandon Marshall could do wonders for Cutler's passer rating.

"That opens those windows, it makes them a little larger, and the difference in the NFL is inches, it's not feet. If you can get a bigger player who provides a bigger catch window we're moving forward,'' Emery said of big receivers.

Cutler's talent never has been in question, but some have doubted him because of his demeanor. Sour faces, the odd rude comment to Mike Martz picked up on a sideline microphone and even some honest, if not exactly thoughtful remarks regarding teammates, have been dissected throughout Cutler's career.

He may be peerless in Chicago, but his NFL peers couldn't think less of him. Colleagues around the NFL were quick to criticize Cutler when a knee injury drove him out of the NFC championship game two seasons ago. The only lists he seems to land on are anonymous ones that name him most disliked or least respected.

Generally regarded as the best and most important player on the Bears, Cutler wasn't on the Top 100 list in a players vote that the NFL Network compiled. A total of 13 quarterbacks from Aaron Rodgers at No. 1 to Tim Tebow at 95 made the list. Why no Cutler?

"Coach [Mike] Shanahan said it best: Quarterbacks at the end of the day are judged by how many Super Bowls they win,'' said Bears quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who served under current Redskins coach Shanahan when Cutler was with them on the Broncos.

"So let's hopefully win a Super Bowl and then we can talk about where you fit in that category.''

It worked for Eli Manning, who wasn't on the list in 2011, but fit in at No. 31 overall this year after winning his second Super Bowl with the Giants.

The Bears face Rodgers and the Packers in a Thursday night game in Green Bay just five days after the season-opener with Luck and the Colts at Soldier Field. Rodgers has started the last four years with the Packers, continuing a run of incredible quarterback play that began with Brett Favre in 1992. Favre, of course, entered the starting lineup four games into that season and never missed a start in 16 years with the team. Rodgers has missed two games in the last four seasons — one in 2010 because of a concussion and another in last season's finale after the Packers had clinched home-field advantage.

The Bears have started 27 quarterbacks in that stretch, including seven since Rodgers became a starter. He's the guy Luck needs to emulate. Unless Cutler proves himself once and for all this year.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.